ALEXANDRA'S PROJECT (2003)

NOT EVERYONE LOVES SURPRISES

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

PART I

Director: Rolf de Heer

Producers: Julie Ryan, Domenico Procacci, and Rolf de Heer

Executive Producer: Antonio Zeccola

Writer: Rolf de Heer

Cinematographer: Ian Jones ACS

Editor: Tania Nehme

Composer: Graham Tardif

Co-Producers: Sue Murray and Bryce Menzies

Sound Design: James Currie, Andrew Plain, and Nada Mikas

Hair/Make-up/Wardrobe: Beverley Freeman

Associate Producer: Nils Erik Nielsen

Production Companies:

Distributors:

Format: 35mm

Screen Ratio: 2.35

Country of Production: Australia

Stock: Fuji and Kodak

Running Time: 103 minutes

Sound: Dolby Digital

Year: 2003

Budget: AUD $2,000,000

Released: 8 May 2003

CAST

Steve: Gary Sweet

Alexandra: Helen Buday

Bill: Bogdan Koca

AWARDS

- Official Selection in Competition Berlin Film Festival 2003

- 48th Valladolid International Film Festival 2003 Best Actress: Helen Buday

- Montreal World Film Festival 2003: Golden Zenith for the Best Film from Oceania

- Victorian Premier's Literary Awards 2003 Winner: Best Screenplay

- Australian Film Institute 2003 Nominations: Best Film, Best Actress (in a lead role), Editing, Sound Design, and Music

- IF Awards 2003 Nominations: Best Screenplay, Best Actress (in a lead role), and Sound Design

- Film Critics Circle of Australia 2003 Nominations: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (in a lead role), Best Actor (in a lead role), Best Actor (in a supporting role), Original Screenplay, and Editing

FILM FESTIVALS

- Berlin International Film Festival: Germany 6-16 February 2003

- Edinburgh International Film Festival: UK 13-24 August 2003

- Montreal World Film Festival: Canada 27 August- 7 September 2003

- Telluride Film Festival: USA 29 August-1 September 2003

- Toronto International Film Festival: Canada 4-13 September 2003

- Chicago International Film Festival: USA 2-16 October 2003

- Valladolid International Film Festival: Spain 24 October ö 1 November 2003

- Stockholm International Film Festival: Sweden 13-23 November 2003

http://www.afc.gov.au/filmsandawards/recentintscreen/2003.aspx

INTERNATIONAL RELEASE DATES

Germany 14 February 2003 Berlin International Film Festival

Argentina 17 April 2003 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

Australia 8 May 2003

France 16 May 2003 Cannes Film Festival

Germany 14 August 2003 Hamburg Fantasy Filmfest

USA 29 August 2003 Telluride Film Festival

Canada 4 September 2003 Toronto Film Festival

Hungary 15 October 2003 Titanic International Filmpresence International

Spain 27 October 2003 Valladolid International Film Festival

Netherlands 6 November 2003

Italy 21 November 2003

Poland 23 January 2004

Belgium 13 March 2004 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film

Belgium 17 March 2004

Mexico 23 April 2004 (Mexico City)

UK 8 May 2004 Commonwealth Film Festival

Mexico 20 August 2004 Guadalajara

Finland 3 September 2004

Mexico 24 September 2004 (limited)

USA 11 November 2004 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival

USA 18 February 2005 (limited)

ROLF DE HEER'S FILMOGRAPHY

Gulpill: One Red Blood (2003) Actor

Alexandra's Project (2003) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

The Tracker (2003) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter/ Songwriter/ Composer

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (2000) Director/ Screenwriter

Spank! (1999) Executive Producer

The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998) Producer

Dance Me to My Song (1998) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

The Quiet Room (1998) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

Epsilon (1995) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

Bad Boy Bubby (1993) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

Dingo (1992) Director/ Producer

Encounter at Raven's Gate (1988) Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter

Tail of a Tiger (1984) Director/ Screenwriter

REVIEWS

http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/information.php?film_id=28&display=reviews

David Stratton 28 Jan 2003 "Alexandra's Project" Accessed 02/04/05

De Heer's concept is an ingenious one, and his two principal actors are superb.

http://www.sbs.com.au/movieshow/index.phps?action=review&id=1111

Margaret Pomeranz [undated] "Alexandra's Project" Accessed 02/04/05

This extraordinarily painful film is a mediation on a lot of things. On the casual cruelty of men, on the seething and calculated bitterness of a wife. It's hard to know where to place it. Is it a mediation on a woman's need to escape from a man who uses a body but never sees the person within?

http://www.theblurb.com.au/issue29/AlexProj.htm

Mike Cameron [undated] Issue 29. Accessed 12/04/05

This is a psychosexual thriller about how one woman exacts revenge on her marriage that is corrupt with husbandly neglect and a life that has become as banal and lifeless as the suburb they live in.

http://www.thefilmpie.com/reviews2003/22-alexandrasproject.html

Matthew Toomey 8 May 2003. Accessed 12/04/05

- despite all the praise and all the adjectives I can use to describe de Heer, Sweet and Buday, I cannot overlook the flimsy screenplay. Driving home from the cinema, I reflected back on the film's key moments and found the harder I looked the more holes I could find.

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/0326/alexandras_project.html

Jake Wilson May 2003 "The Lady Vanishes: Alexandra's Project and Rolf de Heer" Accessed 12/04/05

- de Heer has evolved into one of Australia's few genuine film stylists. Moment by moment, shot by shot, his two most recent films display a confidence and sense of purpose -

Cat Hope (B. Mus. Hons.) May 2003 "Hearing the Story: Sound Design in the Films of Rolf de Heer" Accessed 12/04/05

...Tardif's minimal electronic score in Alexandra's Project implies the undercurrent of invisible electro-magnetic signals in an urban landscape, making an ordinary street seem like a harbinger of impending doom...

http://www.infilm.com.au/reviews/alexandrasproject.htm

Luke Buckmaster [undated] Accessed 17/04/05

Unpredictable Australian auteur Rolf de Heer's frigid domestic thriller about sexual politics is a weird and ugly film that wafts through sequences of off-putting and essentially meaningless confrontation between husband and wife, before arriving at a borderline ludicrous finale.

http://www.filmmovement.com/forms/filmdetails.aspx?listing=past&ProductID=0105&canadian=&Trailor=

Liz Braun Accessed "Alexandra's Project" 17/04/05

The film is creepy and intense to look at, an invitation into a claustrophobic and frightening place. Oppressive. Upsetting.

Andrew L. Urban

A penetrating, haunting and powerful psychological thriller, Alexandra's Project demonstrates the adage that sometimes less is more, even in film.

Louise Keller

Shocking, engrossing, terrifying and thought provoking, here is a film that invites dossiers of discussion. The premise is simple, yet what transpires is not.

http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/review/film/s855803.htm

Megan Spencer [undated] "Triple J Film Review" Accessed 17/04/05

'it is kind of a fun film in a warped way, and a well-made (and rare) Australian exercise in genre filmmaking.

http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVES/2003/121803/film2.html

Matthew Hays [undated] "A Marriage Made in Hell" Accessed 17/04/05

Alexandra's Project is one of those twisted, nasty little gems that makes you thank God that Australians make movies. The film premiered at the World Film Festival in August, and there were walkouts and gasps elicited by the writer-director Rolf de Heer's rather dire universe.

INTERVIEWS

http://www.vibewire.net/2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7940&Itemid=69

10 Jan 2003

Rolf de Heer: It's emotionally difficult material, and I got to a point with it (in the sound editing process) where the edit had gone very well, but then I went 'arrhh' and I didn't want to know the film anymore.

http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/information.php?film_id=28&display=notes

Julie Ryan: My favourite part of working with Rolf is when he delivers me his latest script. Not just because his stories are unique, but because they always pose new challenges for me as a producer, as to how we are going to execute the film.

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/05/07/1052280320992.html

Penelope Debelle [undated] "Alexandra's Politics" Accessed 12/04/05

Rolf de Heer: My preference is that nobody judges anybody...that they try to understand, but that is a utopian view of how things should be. I like them both, and I feel sorry for them both.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alexandras_project/about.php

Production Notes [undated] Accessed 12/04/05

Domenico Procacci: For me, when I commit to any project, it is always a matter of trust. I trust Rolf and every time we make a film, I have reason to trust him more and more.

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/01/1051382050361.html

Sacha Molitorisz 2 May 2003 Accessed 17/04/05

Rolf de Heer: The way people communicate and don't communicate, to me that's very interesting stuff.

http://www.teenja.com/p/articles/mi_mOPAM/is_137/ai_106732192

Fincina Hopgood Summer 2003 Metro Magazine Accessed 12/04/05

Rolf de Heer: - some people are more interested in being provoked or being made to think, having that different sort of experience. It's both, in s ome senses, challenging and confronting and difficult, but in another sense it's like a different sort of ride.

PART II

Sheltered in habitual suburbia, nurtured in the crisp routine of freshly clipped lawns, and slowly festering behind silk-lined curtains, the poisonous venom of betrayal and revenge attains sanction. This wound, although well bandaged, runs deep into the veins of communication and the bones of structure, and ultimately rises to the surface in a devastatingly brilliant spectacle of pain and suffering -

Comfortable within the domestic ritual of married life and experienced in the trials of the business world, Steve (Gary Sweet) occupies a familiar space: he has the house, the wife, the kids, and the career. In this world he is secure and has fulfilled his duties as father, husband, and employee. Settled in domestic and financial sanctuary, Steve welcomes the repetition of everyday life as a daily reminder of the position he holds within society and the subsequent value such an achievement warrants. Also chained to this life is Alexandra (Helen Buday): stripped of purpose and direction, silently distraught with raging desperation. The routine of married domestic life has savagely stolen any understanding or comprehension of identity and has left her cold and embittered. Fuelled by speculations of betrayal and deadened by years of frustration, Alexandra starts to arrange a surprise party that Steve will never forget.

Embedded within the exploration of sexual deviance and romantic investment, de Heer's film chronicles a husband's discovery of a disturbingly candid birthday surprise that tormentingly unravels the politics of the bedroom and strips bare the emotional turmoil of a woman scorned. The film beautifully captures the assumed serenity of suburban life and delivers the audience into a cinematic feast of domestic familiarity, a comfort that is never repeated: an ephemeral pleasure that contrasts harshly with the events that unfold on tape. As Steve follows the ritual of the workplace, his wife and children prepare for his return. Colourful ribbons are strung from each corner and several messages of celebration float from various passages and corridors: the controlled precision of the tasks wonderfully developed in light of upcoming events. Alexandra, in forced routine, accompanies the children's creations but in a very removed and isolated fashion, as though strung up with puppet strings, unconsciously following the motions.

As the day continues, the anxiety of the surprise continues to rise. Elated with confirmation of a promotion, Steve leaves work with a hurried desire to celebrate with his family. With the house seemingly empty, Steve's excitement fades and as he walks aimlessly from room to room, his curiosity aroused in its place. He finds a tape with birthday wishes from his children and a pre-recorded strip tease by his wife. Seated in the comfort of the living room and soothed by a cold beer from the fridge, Steve watches as a narrative of confessions are released on the screen. Positioned in the room next door, Alexandra unleashes a terrible emotional rollercoaster of faked confessions and shocking revelations upon the suitably stunned Steve. Played out upon the emotionally-barren and isolated medium of the video recorder, this heavily devastating recording of avenged betrayal, shattered truths, and venomous revenge complemented with a dangerously involving strip tease tear down the barriers of marital relations and violently resurrect the investigation of sexual politics.

Rolf de Heer's film navigates the stormy discourse of marital responsibilities and expectations with considerable insight and marked audacity. Alexandra's Projectunrelentingly delivers an uninhibited performance of personal truths and masked deceit without ever cowering to audience expectations or social conformity. Both leads encompass the space and volume of their characters with determined truthfulness and unabashed confidence in both the talent and material of de Heer and the significance of the thematic subject within the landscape of contemporary Australian cinema. Both Gary Sweet and Helen Buday have worked with de Heer on other projects and obviously appreciate the dedication he applies to the construction of his films and the manner in which the narrative is delivered to the audience. Sweet recently appeared in The Tracker (2003), with Buday starring in de Heer's film Dingo in 1991. Ian Jones, the cinematographer for Alexandra's Project, worked on both Bad Boy Bubby (1994) and The Tracker, accepting the role of Second Unit Director of Photography for Phillip Noyce's Rabbit- Proof Fence(2002). Graham Tardif has worked on seven other film projects of de Heer's (The Tracker, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (2000), Dance Me to My Song(1998), Quiet Room (1997), Epsilon (1995), Bad Boy Bubby, Encounter at Raven's Gate (1988), and Tale of a Tiger (1984) )with Audine Leith, Tania Nehme, andDomenico Procacci relinquishing their responsibilities on Bad Boy Bubby with casting, editing, and producing respectively for Alexandra's Project. Procacci also produced The Quiet Room, Dance Me to My Song, and The Tracker. Julie Ryan worked as production secretary with de Heer on The Sound of One Hand Clapping(1998), joined Vertigo Productions on Dance Me to My Song, co-produced The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, The Tracker and has another project (Ten Canoes) on the horizon.

Alexandra's Project occupies a curious location upon the landscape of Australian cinema. As detailed in Tom O'Regan's Australian National Cinema, the Australian cinematic landscape acknowledges social, political and cultural fields of context in order to make meaning[1]. Through finding similarities and patterns in Australian films, both technical and creative, the discourse itself can be better explored with the value and direction of Australian cinema gaining status as a significant avenue of enquiry. O'Regan establishes national cinema as:

- a collection of films and production strategies - It is an industrial reality and a film production milieu for which governments develop policy. It is a marketing category to be exploited. It is an appreciation and consumption category for domestic and international audiences. Australian cinema is a container into which different film and cultural projects, energies, investments and institutions are assembled. It collects a range of elements- people and things, screen identities, knowledges, strategies, films- that are loosely related to each other; a raft of different institutions and relations, ranging from the complementary to the combative to the completely unrelated. It involves many different agents acting at a local, national and an international level who variously make, consume, produce, discuss, legislate and circulate Australian cinema.[2]

Some of the elements employed by de Heer in his film provide some indication into the subsequent value such variants hold within the discourse of Australian cinema. People from both the cast and crew have invariably had some previous industrial experience with de Heer and deliver, therefore, similar qualities and approaches that appear (to mixed degrees) in the array of work they have done. As director, producer and screenwriter for Alexandra's Project, de Heer enlists considerable influence (both technically and creatively) in his construction of the film and direction of the cast and crew. Both Sweet and Buday have worked on earlier film projects of de Heer's and bring with them particular familiarity within their persona in the Australian media and cultural circles. Behind the camera, various crew members can be found to have also assisted in several other films by de Heer (as detailed above) and therefore suggest some continuation of creative construction within the investigation of technical influence. Rolf de Heer has essentially created a highly controversial film detailing the fragmentation of a marriage and the blistering reality of emotional suffering. In relation to subject matter, the film bears significant resemblance to Ray Lawrence's Lantana (2001) and also, to a certain extent, the emotional narrative of One Night the Moon (2001). More recent releases, such as Somersault (2004), and the success that this film garnered, indicate a growing interest in more human tales of tragedy and tribulations, in direct contrast with some of the more slapstick comedies that are being released (think the upcoming arrival Me and My Stupid Mate). With cinematographer Ian Jones at the helm of several of de Heer's other projects, it is of no coincidence that these films visually share similar creative passages of display although dealing with dissimilar thematic material.

Although somewhat threatened with the release of films such as Thunderstruck and Under the Radar, 2004 provided Australian audiences with insightful silver screen explorations of identity, belonging and diversity. Rolf de Heer's The Old Man Who Read Love Stories gained considerable momentous interest prior to its release and well-deserved praise following. In many respects, Australian cinema has claimed a very interesting space within international circles of meaning. The emotional depth and intellectual insight of films like Somersault, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and similarly Alexandra's Projectindicate something of the growing attraction of cinematic pleasure in cerebral and controversial material.

Labelled both a 'psycho-sexual thriller' and a 'domestic drama', the complicated web of classification spun in Alexandra's Project probably operates somewhere in between. The film follows familiar thriller narratives of opening serenity followed by lengthened suspense and confusion, ultimately climaxing in shocking revelations and desperate confusion. However the thematic progression of the film also enlists dramatic and sometimes melodramatic moments that reinforce the domestic direction of the film and ultimately remind the viewer of the suburban setting and characters. The ambivalence of generic classification within this film removes the guidance of the expected narrative and instead attains distinction in a cinematic field of experimentation and reinvention. Made on a minimal budget,Alexandra's Project is an amazing cinematic achievement. When released, it certainly did cause mixed reactions: the subject matter is highly confronting and socially relevant. The film has continued to arouse debate and remains a prominent figure upon the landscape of modern Australian cinema.


[1] T. O'Regan (1996) Australian National Cinema Routledge: London: pp 1

[2] T. O'Regan (1996) pp 1-2